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ND FOOTBALL: Back to the grind

Matt Puglisi | Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Nobody’s perfect.

For as well as Notre Dame played in Saturday night’s 42-21 thumping of Pittsburgh at Heinz Field, Irish coach Charlie Weis realizes the Irish still have some work to do. At Sunday’s press conference, Weis detailed a handful of facets on offense, defense and special teams that could use improvement, especially considering the daunting task awaiting the Irish this weekend: a date with No. 4 Michigan at the Big House.

“There were a couple of major concerns – one was the volume of penalties,” Weis said. “There were 10 accepted penalties, and with the exception of the one that I intentionally took in the punt situation to move them back an extra five yards and run off some more time on the clock, I thought that was an inordinate number of penalties. That will not be tolerated, and we’ll have to do much better if we’re playing a little closer game than we played [Saturday].”

On special teams, Weis pointed to underwhelming kicking by Carl Gioia and D.J. Fitzpatrick as a potential area of improvement.

“I thought our biggest problem physically were our kickoffs,” Weis said. “I thought that both kickers could have done a better job kicking the ball.”

In addition, substitution mistakes marred an otherwise solid special teams performance that included a fumble recovery on a kickoff. Quarterback Brady Quinn made the Panthers pay for the turnover, hitting a crossing Jeff Samardzija on a 19-yard touchdown strike that pushed the Irish lead to 28-13 during a 28-point Irish second quarter.

“We had three substitution errors, two of them in the punt game,” Weis said. “On the first one, we didn’t get a guy off the field. We were in nickel defense, and we were trying to go to a base defense and play punt safe, but because we were going from third to fourth down from the nickel defense to a regular defense, it caused some confusion that we will practice at this week.”

Weis blamed himself for the miscue.

“I’ll take that hit,” he said.

An excessive number of penalties on defense hurt the Irish at times, preserving Pittsburgh drives and keeping the unit on the field.

In the end, it was the unnecessary big-yardage penalties that upset Weis.

“We had too many penalties on defense,” Weis said. “We had about a half dozen, but four of them were major penalties. You just can’t get by with a couple pass interference penalties, personal foul and a facemask.

Forget about jumping off sides, being overly aggressive. We just can’t play winning football in a close game doing that. We need to do a better job there.”

On offense, Weis once again cited penalties, coupled with mental mistakes, as the primary weaknesses of Saturday’s effort.

“Once again, we had too many penalties, we had two majors and two minor penalties, which that totals double digit penalties for the team between offense and defense,” Weis said. “That’s not winning football. And we had more mental errors than I would like to have in a game, especially with a game where you had that much time to prepare for what they were going to do.”

As was the case with the special teams substitution mistake, Weis shouldered the burden of the mistake.

“As I said [Saturday], [the mental error] is really a coaching error, not a player’s error, but as it relates to offense, we had to take two timeouts in the third quarter, which I thought that was a bad job by me communicating to Michael [Haywood] and then on to Brady [Quinn],” Weis said. “I thought I should have done a much better job there.”


u A week after running back Travis Thomas earned the honor of special teams captain against Pittsburgh, Weis has already selected defensive lineman Casey Cullen as his special teams captain this weekend against Michigan.

“I told you on a weekly basis we would single out the guy that played the best on special teams and name him as the special teams captain for Michigan, and that person will be Casey Cullen,” Weis said. “He played solid on teams all night long, played on all the teams, played really well and made a critical play that helped us win the game.”